How to Respond to Alarming Changes
Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
This week I read a couple of online articles about the plight of the contemporary writer. In “Farewell to the Golden Age,” legendary author Philip Yancey summarizes the changes in publishing, both from his personal perspective and that of the industry as a whole. He notes, “Every year my royalties go down,” and notes that the reason he can still pay the bills as a full-time writer is because of his extensive backlist.
Yancey laments, “I do worry, though, about new authors who don’t have a backlist to depend on. As readers are trained to pay less (or nothing) for books, how can authors survive?”
He has a good point, as underscored in The Guardian (UK). The article, “Authors’ incomes collapse to abject levels” is a review of a survey in the UK that indicated 11.5% of “professional writers” — those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing — earn their income solely from writing. It discusses the decrease in advances, the drop in royalties for established authors, and the fact that a few writers make a lot of money while the majority don’t. It put the median annual income of professional authors in the UK at less than $19,000. Not enough to support a family.
These two articles are simply highlighting a new reality — publishing is in flux and no one is quite sure what the future looks like. Everyday we’re faced with difficult truths:
• Publishers are merging, resulting in fewer places to submit manuscripts.
• Many authors who have published numerous books are finding their advances going down, not up.
• With self-published books now plentiful, there are more books than ever for readers to choose from.
• It is difficult figuring out how to effectively market books.
• A book’s potential sales are highly unpredictable.
• Many authors’ books don’t live up to the publisher’s sales expectations, meaning the publisher might not want to renew their contract.
• Poor sales figures can make it difficult or impossible to get another traditional book deal.
• The publishing journey often doesn’t live up to an author’s expectations.
In the midst of these truths, writers may experience moments of disappointment and dejection. They might be anxious that a series of speed-bumps could signal the end of their writing career, sometimes before it has even started. Often they are questioning whether it’s time to give up. Some are sad, thinking their lifelong dream is dying. A few are wondering how they are going to pay the bills.
While I understand that everyone has to deal in their own way with disappointment, I also want to encourage everyone to avoid getting bogged down in despair. Because here are some other truths:
• Being a published author is still an amazing experience even if it’s not your primary source of income.
• Publishing setbacks are not “failures” but necessary and expected rites of passage in this business.
• Just because things didn’t go the way you envisioned doesn’t mean things can’t still go well — possibly after re-envisioning your goals.
• People are still reading, meaning we still need writers.
• There are more options than ever before for getting your work in front of readers. You might have to adjust your expectations regarding how much you’ll get paid for it.
• You can embrace your identity as a writer, and refuse to let external circumstances change that.
• The best way to deal with this new reality is to stand up and fight. Don’t let yourself settle in to the despair. You’re not a quitter — pull out that fighting spirit and decide to be a writer regardless of the obstacles.
• Write your books. Share them with people.
Don’t ignore reality. But also, don’t let yourself get trapped in despair. You can’t afford the time. Better get back to work!
Have you experienced moments of despair over the state of publishing? How did you handle it? How do you recommend we all move forward?
How can writers handle the changes in publishing? Click to Tweet.
As readers are trained to pay less (or nothing) for books, how can authors survive? Click to Tweet.
Article in The Guardian says 11.5% of writers make their living solely from writing. Click to Tweet.